In May 2012, Javier Bezos wrote the following message to the LaTeX-L mailing list:

Babel gets back on track and it is again actively maintained. The goals are mainly to fix bugs, to make it compatible with XeTeX and LuaTeX (as far as possible), and perhaps to add some minor new features (provided they are backward compatible).

No attempt will be done to take full advantage of the features provided by XeTeX and LuaTeX, which would require a completely new core (as for example polyglossia or as part of LaTeX3).

In November of that year, a new alpha release was uploaded to CTAN, and in January 2013 a beta release was made. In the change notes to the beta, Javier wrote:

I hope the final version will be available by March/April.

Well, as of a few days ago, version 3.9b of babel is now available on CTAN. Read more about the release at Javier’s website.

It’s been around five years since the last update by Johannes Braams, who was babel’s original developer and who maintained it for many years, pre-dating my involvement with the TeX world. (Indeed, Javier himself has been a contributor to the LaTeX community longer than I.)

Babel has had a bit of a funny role in LaTeX, as it is not strictly an integral part of LaTeX2e itself, but until recently was tightly knit into LaTeX2e’s development. With active development of babel required to fix bugs and provide (some) support for XeTeX and LuaTeX, it was no longer appropriate to keep babel as part of the LaTeX2e release cycle.

Congratulations to Javier for continuing babel and successfully releasing an important new version. It’s people like this that keep the LaTeX world relevant in what seems like a quickly changing world.

It’s difficult to give up code you’ve lived with for many years, and I know it must have been a hard decision for Johannes to pass on the reigns to another. I know this because I’m staring at the prospect myself, with hundreds of unread emails from the last eighteen months, many of which are questions and suggestions on many of the LaTeX packages I maintain.

I’m not ready to give them up myself, but I will need to work hard this year to get back on track. I use people like Javier as inspiration to keep on shipping.